Anthony Saville finds wisdom in the words of Amos the prophet
The news that a man, beginning a process of gender change but before any decisive operation, has gained the right to be transferred to a women’s prison, caused a minor media outrage last month. His/her rights in law, so the judge decided, require such a transfer.
In popular terms, we might call the revulsion a gut feeling,’ but does this leave us open to the condemnation of bigotry? I fall back on the good prophet Amos, born in Judah but called by the Lord to go and teach in Israel in the eighth century BC.
Hisbook opens with a condemnation of several peoples, culminating with Israel itself. It is a heavily edited piece, but it is still clear that the evils referred to are not a matter of law-breaking but of self-evident offences that all humanity should condemn.
These deeds are what we may call ‘natural evils’; for example those of Tyre, ‘because she sold whole communities of captives to Edom, disregarding a treaty of brotherhood’ [1.9] or those of Ammon, ‘because he ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead in order to extend his borders’ [1.13]. They also contain a strong aesthetic revulsion.
Israel is condemned not in general terms but in one vivid image: ‘They sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals’ [2.6]. The prophet then goes on, ‘Father and son use the same girl… They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge. In the house of their god they drink wine taken as fines’ [2.7]. Their moral depravity is expressed not so much by the evils themselves, as by the nasty taste they leave in the mouth.
There is a sensibility to the natural order of God’s creation that goes deeper than the provisions of a written law, and that provides a common reference across different cultures. If you cannot feel, in your gut, that killing pregnant women is especially
abhorrent, there is no law that persuade you. True, even such natural revulsions are partly cultural – we no longer share the horror of Moab’s sin, ‘because he burned, as if in lime, the bones of Edom’s king’ [2.1] – but we can still sense why others could be so horrified.
A transgendering rapist
The prisoner, a murderer, had been returned to prison for attempted rape. Under the provisions of the Gender Recognition Act, he must live as a woman’ for two years before the surgery that will complete the transgendering process; and this means he must be transferred to a women’s prison, for he is not allowed at present to wear make up and women’s clothing in a male prison.
Of course there are more details to this case than can be listed here, and the provisions of the law must be fulfilled. Nevertheless, are we wrong to suggest that a man convicted of rape should not, even for human rights reasons, be moved to a women’s prison?
Is there not something here particularly offensive to women? This was tacitly acknowledged by the judges, who require that he/she, after the transfer, be kept in isolation, at a cost of an extra £80,000 a year.
‘Do horses gallop on rocks? Do men plough the sea with oxen? But you have turned justice into poison, and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood’ continued Amos [6.12]. There is a natural order, he keeps insisting, and no human laws can alter this truth.
There is something deeper than men’s written laws, a law written into the structure of the universe. Much of this is appreciated/appropriated as a gut instinct! Such a visceral reaction should not overrule careful consideration of rights and wrongs, but it should be acknowledged and taken seriously.